Molecular Identification of Rickettsial Endosymbionts in the Non-Phagotrophic Volvocalean Green Algae
The order Rickettsiales comprises Gram-negative obligate intracellular bacteria (also called rickettsias) that are mainly associated with arthropod hosts. This group is medically important because it contains human-pathogenic species that cause dangerous diseases. Until now, there has been no report of non-phagotrophic photosynthetic eukaryotes, such as green plants, harboring rickettsias. We examined the bacterial endosymbionts of two freshwater volvocalean green algae: unicellular Carteria cerasiformis and colonial Pleodorina japonica. Epifluorescence microscopy using 4′-6-deamidino-2-phenylindole staining revealed the presence of endosymbionts in all C. cerasiformis NIES-425 cells, and demonstrated a positive correlation between host cell size and the number of endosymbionts. Strains both containing and lacking endosymbionts of C. cerasiformis (NIES-425 and NIES-424) showed a >10-fold increase in cell number and typical sigmoid growth curves over 192 h. A phylogenetic analysis of 16 S ribosomal (r)RNA gene sequences from the endosymbionts of C. cerasiformis and P. japonica demonstrated that they formed a robust clade (hydra group) with endosymbionts of various non-arthropod hosts within the family Rickettsiaceae. There were significantly fewer differences in the 16 S rRNA sequences of the rickettsiacean endosymbionts between C. cerasiformis and P. japonica than in the chloroplast 16 S rRNA or 18 S rRNA of the host volvocalean cells. Fluorescence in situ hybridization demonstrated the existence of the rickettsiacean endosymbionts in the cytoplasm of two volvocalean species. The rickettsiacean endosymbionts are likely not harmful to their volvocalean hosts and may have been recently transmitted from other non-arthropod organisms. Because rickettsias are the closest relatives of mitochondria, incipient stages of mitochondrial endosymbiosis may be deduced using both strains with and without C. cerasiformis endosymbionts.